Friday, March 2, 2012

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)

Modest Mussorgsky was born on March 9, 1839, in Karevo, Russia, near the very rural town of Toropets, about 250 miles (400 km) south of St. Petersburg. His family was aristocratic, wealthy, and owned lots of land, villages, and peasants. He died on March 28, 1881, in St. Petersburg, at the age of 42.

His first major work was Night on Bald Mountain. He wrote this quickly in June 1867. His second major work, written in June 1874, was Pictures at an Exhibition—A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann. Mussorgsky’s composition has ten parts. He called the first part "Promenade." In it, he writes about walking through the exhibition and about his feelings as he looks at the pictures and remembers his lost friend.

Mussorgsky met Hartmann in 1870. Mussorgsky the musician and Hartmann the painter both wanted to be distinctly Russian in their art. They became fast friends.

Hartmann died suddenly in 1873 at the age of 39. Mussorgsky and other friends were heartbroken. A show of 400 drawings and paintings by Hartmann was organized at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in February 1874.

Mussorgsky went to the show. Inspired by it, he wrote Pictures at an Exhibition for piano in honor of his friend.

This music, however, was not published until 1886: twelve years after the exhibition and five years after the death of Mussorgsky. Before it was published, it was edited by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He also rewrote and published Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain that same year.

In 1922, Maurice Ravel rewrote Mussorgsky’s piano composition for a full orchestra. Ravel's Pictures is the most popular version of Mussorgksy's composition today.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.